View Full Version : Who out there plays their uke live at real gigs???

09-12-2010, 05:00 AM
I've played in bands my whole life and am really thinking of doing a duo or trio with ukulele as the main instrument.

So my other question is, what works for you, besides the obvious stuff that everyone plays. What other songs go over well? Does the crowd accept ukulele as a main instrument? What type of venues do you play?

09-12-2010, 05:06 AM
There are lots of acts out there that use the ukulele as the main instrument. The best bet for being noticed is either play like Aldrine or Jake, or have fantastic vocals. Since I don't play like Aldrine or Jake, I opt for vocals. ;b

09-12-2010, 05:26 AM
My most recent band was an 8 piece: 3 guitarist/singers, bass, drums, 3 ukes. I was the main lead player, rotating between electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and uke. Some of the uke leads were on "You Never Know" by Wilco, "Drop Baby Drop", "Stealin'", the '60s oldie "Secret Agent Man/Miserlou". One of the grabbers is to do something on uke no one expects and make it work.

09-12-2010, 06:43 AM
I play drums in a punk band, but halfway through the set we take a break and do some acoustic numbers with my uke, a guitar, and an acoustic bass or a jew's harp. We mostly play bars and pool halls. Don't worry about acceptance; people love the ukulele.
"The Sunny Side of Life" by the Carter Family is always a crowd pleaser, especially when we mix Daniel Johnston's "Funeral Home" in to the middle of it. "Cigareets and Whusky and Wild, Wild Women" also goes over well. People like the old country tunes, and they're fun to play.
Beyond that, we just do originals with the guitarist and me singing harmony. The audience favourite seems to be a song I wrote on ukulele about violent chickens ("Chickens; they wanna punch you in the face/They think that you're a disgrace...").
It's hard to play on stage because my uke is just acoustic, so I have to stand at the exact right spot to be picked up by the mike, which is distracting, which often makes me forget my lyrics.
I can't wait for my left-handed concert Eleuke to arrive so i can really rock out on stage!

09-12-2010, 09:40 AM
Our group - The Ukes of Hazard - is just two tenors and voices. We play small bars and cafes - often with the ukes amped but no mics. From my experience I'd say just play stuff you enjoy. We just come up ideas, try them and if the work they go on the set list.
In our case it's mostly country because that's what we like but sam Cooke, lou reed and Bruce Springsteen also feature. We'll come up with all sorts of ideas over a whisky or three. But then we try therm - some work some don't.

09-12-2010, 09:43 AM
In my neck of the woods a lot of folks think we are playing mandolins.

09-12-2010, 10:54 AM
My duo plays around 75 gigs a year, from small pubs & clubs to theatres and large festival stages- some crowds are really informed about ukes, other as mentioned above think they are little guitars or mandolins. We only do big hits that pretty much everyone in the room will know. The idea of doing the unexpected, also suggested above, works well. In our case it's not the song itself that's unexpected, it's the fact that the song is played by two big bald blokes on ukuleles! Of course, the real trick is to make the act work as an act, rather than a 'uke thing'. It needs to be able to entertain people* who have never heard of a ukulele. Only a handful of our gigs each year are 'uke gigs' (uke fests, clubs), most are to the general public, who will have a broad range of exposure to ukes. People will always come with preconceived ideas (we get asked if we play George Formby songs at most gigs!), the challenge is to prove them wrong!

*this is a important point to me. I firmly believe that unless you intend to entertain people you shouldn't be getting up on stage.

09-12-2010, 12:37 PM
Phil, you guys ROCK! Your post should go into the annals of UU history.

09-12-2010, 12:40 PM
I'd really like to get into this I like to take modern indie songs and play them on the uke people don't really expect that in ukulele bands i think. I can't sing particularly well either but have a lot of heart for the music i do. I'm hoping to do a open mic next week and see what happens

09-12-2010, 03:25 PM
I play bass with Jack Lavoie and I sing one to two songs on the uke every gig we play, be it a small club gig or festivals. I remember my Koa Pili Koko getting photographed at one gig at The Morin Center in Quebec City, and the other musicians sorta got pissed-off-ed. Last year, I played my Kumalae one of the three nights at a festival, but now I usually bring my Koaloha concert. I also get to choose which song I play (I've even played one of my comps), but I have to do one of his originals on the uke.

09-13-2010, 03:30 AM
I regularly play uke as part of Sunday morning service at my church.


Hippie Dribble
09-13-2010, 04:42 AM
I regularly play uke as part of Sunday morning service at my church.


like lindydanny, I too use a ukulele as a lead or accompanying instrument in church worship. Great with the old time numbers.

Like the guy in "Stanley's Gig", I also play often to 'captive' audiences in nursing homes; the uke is great for that kind of close-knit, intimate kind of singalong gathering... but it is truly amazing how ignorant many people are as to what it actually is you are playing: they think it's either a mandolin, or come up with a little quip like "So,when did your guitar have a baby then?" I've even had someone say, "nice Banjo!!!" Bizarre.

For bigger community events and hotel gigs I tend to stick with the guitar and use the uke for 2 or 3 songs spaced throughout the set; usually fun ones - novelty or singalong type songs - or ones that show your playing ability at its best.

Also, if you're interested in checking out an awesome band with a simple arrangement of ukulele, snare drum and single string/ tea chest bass, track down some recordings by The Old Spice Boys - a great Australian band with the right mix of good fun / irreverence and just brilliant musicianship.

09-13-2010, 05:58 AM
I don't know if it counts as a gig, but I lead the worship for the student Christian club at university.
And I'm out there with my uke (more often baritone uke, though I used GCEA a lot last year), along with other band members (electric guitar, keyboard, vocals).

09-13-2010, 07:39 AM
Great responses so far - thank you! I live in South Florida and there is a disturbing lack of uke acts here, so I'd love to start one.

I'm not, and won't be, a player like Jake.... but I have experience playing on front of crowds and can engage and entertain a crowd - the most improtant thing, of course, as stated earlier.

I would be playing some popular music, just not the stuff you hear every acoustic guitarist in south Florida playing (Buffet / Brown eyed girl / etc...) along with some originals, standards and some not so popular covers.

Your responses truly help a lot - can't wait to hear more!

09-13-2010, 08:21 AM
friends and I gig guitars most weekends, and often we take the ukes along as an interlude - goes down really well.

My fave gig, in a very sad sort of way, was the funeral of a close friend who used to play harmonica with us at gigs, and adored the ukes (he used to play one in a band in his Merchant Navy days onboard ship). His son asked us to bring ukes to the rememberance party after the burial - and we played to a big old crowd - mainly uplifting standards. Son said his Dad would have adored it.

09-13-2010, 12:38 PM
My band, Three Hour Tour, is me on uke, a steel drummer, bass and percussion. We just finished playing all summer at the San Diego Zoo, but with pre-recorded drums fed thru the PA. We sometimes play with just the uke and pan, with bass and drums in the PA tracks, usually for corporate functions, and fund raisers, etc. When it matters, we have the bass and percussion live. Here's a sample of our sound in the studio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BWlDJgsNJ0

I've found total acceptance of the uke as lead instrument. Every now and then somebody asks if it's a little guitar or some kind of mandolin, or something, but I'm polite (most of the time) and explain things... slowly... Once we get started, it becomes obvious that a uke can and does hold its own quite nicely, thank you, in a band situation. People who have never heard an in-your-face ukulele are generally blown away. Not that we do anything all that flashy, just the sound it can get. That was part of the idea behind a no-guitars approach, to draw attention to the power of the ukulele both rhythmically and melodically.

09-14-2010, 08:52 AM
Ukecantdothat: Very nice sound clip, but I can't make up my mind if I like your music track more or the awesome pics/photography. Who did The Photos? Beautifully done. Thanks Lozark

Uncle Rod Higuchi
09-14-2010, 09:54 AM
After returning from vacation this Summer (4th of July thru Aug 15th in Hawaii) I heard that a friend of mine had been playing at a local Hawaiian-Style Restaurant (Kona Kitchen) on Sat mornings round 10 to noon. So I stopped by to hear him play. He had taken lessons from Jake a few years back, so his style is Jake-ish. This means he mainly does instrumentals.

While there the Owner's mother-in-law asked if I wanted to come back on Sunday (after Church) and play for the diners. Sure. Been doing it fairly regularly since then.

It's mostly 'practice' although it is a performance. Mostly background music while people are eating so I don't expect any applause, but will accept it when given. I don't want to interrupt their dining experience so I keep it low key. I have a mic and a Roland MicroCube. I'm playing my newly acquired violin-shaped uke, Soprano with Concert scale, from Tangi in Honolulu. The uke is acoustic, the mic is for my vocals.

Tips are received with appreciation. I've only had a couple of requests so far, but if I know it, I'll sing and play it. That being said, I'm a singer who plays the uke vs a uke virtuoso.

Great times. I think I'll try to 'schedule' my gigs for the 1st and 3rd Sundays (11-2p) so as not to conflict with SUPA's every
2nd Sunday meeting. Needless to say, I did miss last Sunday, the 12th, primarily because SUPA was involved in the Live Aloha, Hawaiian Cultural Festival event at the Seattle Center.

If you have the opportunity and you'd like to get started, go for it. It's a great opportunity to overcome lots of performance 'issues', to develop skills, etc. And you get to meet really nice people.

Keep uke'in',

09-14-2010, 01:55 PM
I play a coffee house and old folks venues. I mostly play the fiddle and in the middle of the set I take out the uke and do some sing-a-long songs. Mairzy Doates, Tip toe through the tulips, and one or two gospel numbers. At the coffee house I alternate between the fiddle and uke. We have a Uke Joint the second Monday of every month where we take turns playing anything we can think of. It was last night and I did Rolling in my sweet baby's arms, Louise(Bonnie Rait cover), Lorena, and I'm my own grandpa. I can invite all the ukers out there to come out and play with us when you all are in New Orleans. Sunday night is Open Mic and the second Monday of every month is the Uke Joint. We are the Neutral Ground Coffee House--New Orleans. We are on the internet so google us. We have live music acts every night that are one hour sets. I anyone wants to do one of these sets they just need to contact us a month in advance to get scheduled or just come in for the Open Mike or Uke Joint. We have a lot of fun and are in a safe neighborhood near Tulane Univ. Dogs and children are welcome.

09-14-2010, 03:36 PM
Got my first paid gig coming up soon - solo act, doing some of my vocal stuff and some instrumentals - end with "Middle Aged Guy with a Ukulele" of course. Thinking of taking my homemade "Porch Board" if I can learn to use it well enough. Mike

09-14-2010, 04:14 PM
I've been doing a bit of gigging. It always has that shock factor and people just love it. I can't think of a more enjoyable thing than to have an audience that is having as much fun as I am.

Chris Tarman
09-14-2010, 05:06 PM
I've played uke at a couple of gigs with a goofy rock band, "The Stupid Band" (honestly, that's the name). We just do two gigs a year (Halloween and Earth Day). Attached are some photos from our last gig, where I had to borrow a uke from my neighbor down the street, since my uke with a pickup had a broken string. Being a bass player, I have never gotten used to the idea of keeping extra strings, lol.
I also played uke on a song or two with a variant of a jazz band I used to play in. It was all the same members, but a different repertoire, with vocals. I played uke on "Breakdown" by Jack Johnson, and "No Woman, No Cry" by Bob Marley. Our trumpet player played my bass for those two songs.
I have been wanting to get a better uke with a pickup, a soprano I think. Mine is a junky Oscar Schmidt concert that I got at a pawn shop for $60 or so, just so I'd have one I could plug in. There is a restaurant that has an open mic night once in a while, and I'd rather take a ukulele than have to haul all of my bass gear. Besides, there is usually a bass player there already. I doubt very much that there's a ukulelist though!